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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Science Panel Calls Global Warming ‘Unequivocal’

February 3, 2007

Science Panel Calls Global Warming ‘Unequivocal’

PARIS, Feb. 2 — In a grim and powerful assessment of the future of the planet, the leading international network of climate scientists has concluded for the first time that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950.

They said the world was in for centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas and shifting weather patterns — unavoidable results of the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

But their report, released here on Friday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said warming and its harmful consequences could be substantially blunted by prompt action.

While the report provided scant new evidence of a climate apocalypse now, and while it expressly avoided recommending courses of action, officials from the United Nations agencies that created the panel in 1988 said it spoke of the urgent need to limit looming and momentous risks.

“In our daily lives we all respond urgently to dangers that are much less likely than climate change to affect the future of our children,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, which administers the panel along with the World Meteorological Organization.

“Feb. 2 will be remembered as the date when uncertainty was removed as to whether humans had anything to do with climate change on this planet,” he went on. “The evidence is on the table.”

The report is the panel’s fourth assessment since 1990 on the causes and consequences of climate change, but it is the first in which the group asserts with near certainty — more than 90 percent confidence — that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming in the past half century.

In its last report, in 2001, the panel, consisting of hundreds of scientists and reviewers, said the confidence level for its projections was “likely,” or 66 to 90 percent. That level has now been raised to “very likely,” better than 90 percent. Both reports are online at www.ipcc.ch.

The Bush administration, which until recently avoided directly accepting that humans were warming the planet in potentially harmful ways, embraced the findings, which had been approved by representatives from the United States and 112 other countries on Thursday night.

Administration officials asserted Friday that the United States had played a leading role in studying and combating climate change, in part by an investment of an average of almost $5 billion a year for the past six years in research and tax incentives for new technologies.

At the same time, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman rejected the idea of unilateral limits on emissions. “We are a small contributor to the overall, when you look at the rest of the world, so it’s really got to be a global solution,” he said.

The United States, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, contributes about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other country.

Democratic lawmakers quickly fired off a round of news releases using the report to bolster a fresh flock of proposed bills aimed at cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. Senator James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has called the idea of dangerous human-driven warming a hoax, issued a news release headed “Corruption of Science” that rejected the report as “a political document.”

The new report says the global climate is likely to warm 3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit if carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reach twice the levels of 1750, before the Industrial Revolution.

Many energy and environment experts see such a doubling, or worse, as a foregone conclusion after 2050 unless there is a prompt and sustained shift away from the 20th-century pattern of unfettered burning of coal and oil, the main sources of carbon dioxide, and an aggressive expansion of nonpolluting sources of energy.

And the report says there is a more than a 1-in-10 chance of much greater warming, a risk that many experts say is far too high to ignore.

Even a level of warming that falls in the middle of the group’s range of projections would be likely to cause significant stress to ecosystems, according to many climate experts and biologists. And it would alter longstanding climate patterns that shape water supplies and agricultural production.

Moreover, the warming has set in motion a rise in global sea levels, the report says. It forecasts a rise of 7 to 23 inches by 2100 and concludes that seas will continue to rise for at least 1,000 years to come. By comparison, seas rose about 6 to 9 inches in the 20th century.

John P. Holdren, an energy and climate expert at Harvard, said the report “powerfully underscores the need for a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable.”

“Since 2001, there has been a torrent of new scientific evidence on the magnitude, human origins and growing impacts of the climatic changes that are under way,” said Mr. Holdren, who is the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “In overwhelming proportions, this evidence has been in the direction of showing faster change, more danger and greater confidence about the dominant role of fossil-fuel burning and tropical deforestation in causing the changes that are being observed.”

The conclusions came after a three-year review of hundreds of studies of past climate shifts; observations of retreating ice, warming and rising seas, and other changes around the planet; and a greatly expanded suite of supercomputer simulations used to test how the earth will respond to a growing blanket of gases that hold heat in the atmosphere.

The section released Friday was a 20-page summary for policymakers, which was approved early in the morning by teams of officials from more than 100 countries after three days and nights of wrangling over wording with the lead authors, all of whom are scientists.

It described far-flung ramifications for both humans and nature.

“It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent,” said the summary.

Generally, the scientists said, more precipitation will fall at higher latitudes, which are also likely to see lengthened growing seasons. Semi-arid subtropical regions, already chronically plagued by drought, could have a further 20 percent drop in rainfall under the panel’s midrange outlook for increases in the greenhouse gases.

The summary added a new chemical consequence of the buildup of carbon dioxide to the list of mainly climatic and biological effects foreseen in its previous reports: a drop in the pH of seawater as oceans absorb billions of tons of carbon dioxide, which forms carbonic acid when partly dissolved. The ocean would stay alkaline, but marine biologists have said that a change in the direction of acidity could imperil some kinds of corals and plankton.

The report essentially caps a half-century-long effort to discern whether humans, through the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases released mainly by burning fuels and forests, could influence the earth’s climate system in potentially momentous ways.

The group operates under the aegis of the United Nations and was chartered in 1988 — a year of record heat, burning forests and the first big headlines about global warming — to provide regular reviews of climate science to governments to inform policy choices.

Government officials are involved in shaping the summary of each report, but the scientist-authors, who are unpaid, have the final say over the thousands of pages in four underlying technical reports that will be completed and published later this year.

Big questions remain about the speed and extent of some impending changes, both because of uncertainty about future population and pollution trends and the complex interrelationships of the greenhouse emissions, clouds, dusty kinds of pollution, the oceans and earth’s veneer of life, which both emits and soaks up carbon dioxide and other such gases.

But a broad array of scientists, including authors of the report and independent experts, said the latest analysis was the most sobering view yet of a century of transition — after thousands of years of relatively stable climate conditions — to a new norm of continual change.

Should greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at even a moderate pace, average temperatures by the end of the century could match those last seen 125,000 years ago, in the previous warm spell between ice ages, the report said.

At that time, the panel said, sea levels were 12 to 20 feet higher than they are now. Much of that extra water is now trapped in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, which are eroding in some places.

The panel said there was no solid scientific understanding of how rapidly the vast stores of ice in polar regions will melt, so their estimates on new sea levels were based mainly on how much the warmed oceans will expand, and not on contributions from the melting of ice now on land.

Other scientists have recently reported evidence that the glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic could flow seaward far more quickly than estimated in the past, and they have proposed that the risks to coastal areas could be much more imminent. But the climate change panel is forbidden by its charter to enter into speculation, and so could not include such possible instabilities in its assessment.

Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the United Nations World Meteorological Organization, said the lack of clarity should offer no one comfort. “The speed with which melting ice sheets are raising sea levels is uncertain, but the report makes clear that sea levels will rise inexorably over the coming centuries,” he said. “It is a question of when and how much, and not if.”

The warming and other climate changes will be highly variable around the world, with the Arctic in particular seeing much higher temperatures, said Susan Solomon, the co-leader of the team writing the summary and the section of the panel’s report on basic science. She is an atmospheric scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The kinds of vulnerabilities are very much dependent on where you are, Dr. Solomon said in a telephone interview. “If you’re living in parts of the tropics and they’re getting drier and you’re a farmer, there are some very acute issues associated with even small changes in rainfall — changes we’re already seeing are significant,” she said. “If you are an Inuit and you’re seeing your sea ice retreating already, that’s affecting your life style and culture.”

The 20-page summary is a sketch of the findings that are most germane to the public and world leaders.

The full report, thousands of pages of technical background, will be released in four sections through the year — the first on basic science, then sections on impacts and options for limiting emissions and limiting inevitable harms, and finally a synthesis of all of the findings near year’s end.

In a news conference in Paris, Dr. Solomon declined to provide her own views on how society should respond to the momentous changes projected in the study.

“I honestly believe that it would be a much better service for me to keep my personal opinions separate than what I can actually offer the world as a scientist,” she said. “My stepson, who is 29, has an utterly different view of risks than I do. People are going to have to make their own judgments.”

Some authors of the report said that no one could honestly point to any remaining uncertainties as justification for further delay.

“Policy makers paid us to do good science, and now we have very high scientific confidence in this work — this is real, this is real, this is real,” said Richard B. Alley, one of the lead authors and a professor at Pennsylvania State University. “So now act, the ball’s back in your court.”

Elisabeth Rosenthal reported from Paris, and Andrew C. Revkin from New York. Felicity Barringer contributed reporting from Washington.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Feb. 1, 2007, 4:10PM
Global warming 'very likely' man-made

By SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science Writer

PARIS — A long-awaited report says global warming is "very likely" man-made, the most powerful language ever used on the issue by the world's leading climate scientists, delegates who have seen the report said Thursday.

And the document, the most authoritative science on the issue, says the disturbing signs are already visible in rising seas, killer heat waves, worsening droughts and stronger hurricanes.

There was another signal, too: The City of Light dimmed the lights.

It was an expression of concern over the state of the planet as the world awaited the report's release on Friday. Slowly, starting first with the iconic Eiffel Tower and then spreading to the hotel where many scientists were staying, Paris quieted and dimmed ever so slightly, even as those still fine-tuning the document burned the midnight oil.

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a group of hundreds of scientists and representatives of 113 governments — unanimously portrays the science of global warming as an existing and worsening threat, officials told The Associated Press.

"There's no question that the powerful language is intimately linked to the more powerful science," said one of the study's many co-authors, Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria, who spoke by phone from Canada. He said the report was based on science that is rock-solid, peer-reviewed, conservative and consensus: "It's very conservative. Scientists by their nature are skeptics."

The scientists wrote the report, based on years of peer-reviewed research; government officials edited it with an eye toward the required unanimous approval by world governments.

In the end, there was little debate on the strength of the wording about human activity most likely to blame.

"That is a big move. I hope it is a powerful statement," said Jan Pretel, head of the department of climate change at the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute.

The panel quickly agreed Thursday on two of the most contentious issues: attributing global warming to man-made burning of fossil fuels and connecting it to a recent increase in stronger hurricanes. Negotiations over a final third difficult issue — how much sea level rise is predicted by 2100 — went into the night Thursday with a deadline approaching for the report.

While critics call the panel overly alarmist, it is by nature relatively cautious because it relies on hundreds of scientists, including skeptics.

"I hope that policymakers will be quite convinced by this message," said Riibeta Abeta, a delegate whose island nation Kiribati is threatened by rising seas. "The purpose is to get them moving."

It took delegates just 90 minutes to agree on the signature statement which describes how sure scientists are about global warming being caused by man. The answer — "very likely" — translates to a more than 90 percent certainty.

What that means in layman's language is "we have this nailed," said top U.S. climate scientist Jerry Mahlman, who originated the percentage system.

"They're hearing through the science that this is appropriate," Mahlman, a reviewer of panel's work but not an author or editor, said. "I'm pretty happy with the 'very likely' designation."

That phrase is an escalation from the panel's last report in 2001, which said warming was "likely" caused by human activity. There had been speculation that the participants might try to up the ante too "virtually certain" man causes global warming, which translates to 99 percent chance.

The Chinese delegation was resistant to strong wording on global warming, said Barbados delegate Leonard Fields and others. China has increasingly turned to fossil fuels for its huge and growing energy needs and it asked that an ambiguous footnote be added to the "very likely" statement.

The footnote reads, "Consideration of remaining uncertainty is based on current methodology," according to an official who was at the negotiations but was sworn to secrecy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government delegation was not one of the more vocal groups in the debate over whether warming is man-made, said other countries' officials. And several attendees credited the head of the panel session, Susan Solomon, a top U.S. government climate scientist, with pushing through the agreement so quickly.

The Bush administration acknowledges that global warming is man-made and a problem that must be dealt with, Bush science adviser John Marburger has said. However, Bush continues to reject mandatory limits on so-called "greenhouse" gases, even as he acknowledges the existence of climate change.

But this is more than just a U.S. issue.

"What you're trying to do is get the whole planet under the proverbial tent in how to deal with this, not just the rich countries," Mahlman said Thursday. "I think we're in a different kind of game now."

The panel, created by the United Nations in 1988, releases its assessments every five or six years — although scientists have been observing aspects of climate change since as far back as the 1960s. The reports are released in phases, with this one being the first of four this year.

The next report is due in April and will discuss the effects of global warming.

But there are some elements of that in the current document.

The report will say that global warming has made stronger hurricanes, including those on the Atlantic Ocean, such as Hurricane Katrina, according to Fields, the Barbados delegate, and others.

They said the panel agreed that an increase in hurricane and tropical cyclone strength since 1970 "more likely than not" can be attributed to man-made global warming. The scientists said global warming's connection varies with storms in different parts of the world, but that the storms that strike the Americas are global warming-influenced.

That's a contrast from the 2001 which said there was not enough evidence to make such a conclusion. And it conflicts with a November 2006 statement by the World Meteorological Organization, which helped found the IPCC. The meteorological group said it could not link past stronger storms to global warming.

Fields — of Barbados, a country in the path of many hurricanes — said the new wording was "very important." He noted that insurance companies — which look to science to calculate storm risk — "watch the language, too."

Another contentious issue is predictions of sea level rise. Scientists are trying to incorporate concerns that their early drafts underestimate how much the sea level will rise by 2100 because they cannot predict how much ice will melt from Greenland and Antarctica.

In early drafts, scientists predicted a sea level rise of no more than 23 inches by 2100, but that does not include the ice sheet melts.

The report is being edited in English, then must be translated into five other languages. It will be a 11-15 page summary for policymakers in most of the world's countries.
___

Associated Press Writer Angela Charlton contributed to this report.


How Should We Interpret Biden's Comments About Obama?

From Susan Pizarro-Eckert,
Your Guide to Race Relations.
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How Should We Interpret Biden's Comments About Obama?

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” This quote comes from Senator Joe Biden, who recently announced he too was throwing his hat into the already crowded ring for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Since he made this statement, blogs have been buzzing. And key media personalities have requested that the Senator and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee clarify what he meant. (watch his response on YouTube.)

This scenario reminds me of that Geico commercial, the one in which the caveman sits across from the therapist who asks him why the company slogan "So easy a caveman can do it" is so offensive to him. Rather than answer the question, the caveman responds with a question of his own: "How would you feel if it said 'So easy a therapist can do it?' To this, the therapist cocks her head and confidently responds, "Well that wouldn't make sense." "Why," asks the caveman, "because therapists are smart?" In the Geico slogan "so easy a caveman can do it" the offensive subtext is obviously "...and as you know, cavemen aren't smart."

It seems to me that Biden's comment plays on the prevailing stereotypes about African-American males: that they are unintelligent, inarticulate, dirty/corrupt/criminal, and unattractive. The subtext of his comment becomes "...and you know those people are unintelligent, inarticulate, dirty/corrupt/criminal, unattractive." If we understand this, then we understand the context for his next comment, which is "It's a storybook, man."

When it comes to race, and comments about race, people are either so quick to defend, or attack, that we end up blind to what lies before our very eyes. But, what if we took Biden's comment out of a racial context? What if we pretended just for one moment that he had instead said, "I mean, you got the first mainstream woman who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking gal?” How would this comment have come across then? My guess would be major controversy about whether or not Senator Joe Biden is a chauvinist woman-hater and therefore, whether or not he is fit for the presidential role.

But Biden was referring to Obama's race. That's not my opinion; here's a direct quote: "...you got the first mainstream African-American..."

And because he targeted race in such a derisive manner (Are we really to believe that never before Obama has there been an "articulate," "bright," "clean," and "nice-looking" African-American in the mainstream eye?), I believe he invited the resulting controversy.

Still, some bloggers have written that they see no harm in his comments, explaining either that this says more about "Biden's tendency to run his mouth off, I think, than it is some indication of latent racism (written by Greg Tinti on The Political Pit Bull)," or, enlightening us all by clarifying that what the Senator really meant to say can only be understood if you add the context words he left out: specifically “presidential candidate....And I presume by “clean” he means “clean-cut” rather than “bathes regularly.” (written by James Joyner on Outside the Beltway)."

And still other bloggers, while acknowledging the arrogance and ignorance of Biden's comments, are taking this opportunity to slam Democrats for making a faux pas on a subject they usually attack Republicans for: "Maybe Biden has been hanging around Robert Byrd for a little too long...Anyway, it’s nice to see the Democrats come out and show you what they really think of minorities in this country. They always bring up race as an issue, and now you know why (See "And the Left Say WE'RE Racists?")."

But let's not forget: Biden is no stranger to controversy. He was a candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, but according to USA Today, withdrew from the race in 1987 amid accusations that he had plagiarized passages in his speeches. In addition, his earlier comments about not being able to go into a 7-eleven or Dunkin Donuts without an Indian Accent (CBS News) also managed to ruffle more than a few feathers.

What's your opinion? Were Biden's comments about Obama appropriate?...Participate in our forum poll.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In Senate, Allies of Bush Work to Halt Iraq Vote - New York Times

In Senate, Allies of Bush Work to Halt Iraq Vote - New York Times:
January 31, 2007

In Senate, Allies of Bush Work to Halt Iraq Vote

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 — The Bush administration’s allies in the Senate began a major effort on Tuesday to prevent a potentially embarrassing rejection of the president’s plan to push 20,000 more troops into Iraq.

With the Senate expected to reach votes on possible resolutions sometime next week, the signs of the new campaign seeped out after a weekly closed-door lunch in which Republican senators engaged in what participants described as a heated debate over how to approach the issue.

The new effort by President Bush’s allies, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is aimed at blocking two nonbinding resolutions directly critical of the White House that had appeared to be gaining broad support among Democrats and even some Republicans.

Republicans skeptical of the troop buildup said some of their colleagues had begun to suggest that opponents of the White House plan ran the risk of undermining Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new military commander in Iraq, as well as Mr. Bush.

“There is a lot of pressure on people who could be with us not to be with us,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, the co-author of one resolution along with Senators John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.

As an alternative to that measure and another broadly backed by Democrats, Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, along with Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut, are trying to enlist support for a resolution that would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government and describe the troop increase as a final chance for the United States to restore security in Baghdad.

The senators have been joined in their effort by the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.

The debate over Iraq also resounded elsewhere on Capitol Hill, as senators attending the confirmation hearing for Adm. William J. Fallon, nominated to command American forces in the Middle East, heard his blunt assessment of the path ahead. He said “time is running out” for positive action by the government of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to show it can quell sectarian violence.

At another Senate hearing, the leaders of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel that reported to Mr. Bush and Congress last month, disputed the White House’s contention that most of their recommendations had been incorporated into Mr. Bush’s troop increase plan.

“The diplomatic effort has not been full enough,” said Lee H. Hamilton, co-chairman of the study group with James A. Baker III. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Hamilton described the initiatives begun by the administration in the Middle East as modest and slow, and added, “We don’t have the time to wait.”

On the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats began laying the constitutional groundwork for an effort to block the president’s plan to send more troops to Iraq and place new limits on the conduct of the war there, perhaps forcing a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

In advance of a possible Senate vote on the resolutions, Republican senators now appear widely divided over how to proceed. In trying to head off the resolution supported by Senators Warner and Collins, allies of the White House appear to be trying to muster at least the 41 votes they would need to prevent a vote on the measure under Senate rules. Mr. McCain is sponsoring the competing resolution that would establish benchmarks for the Iraqi government. He said the proposal also could be fashioned to give Congress more oversight.

Republicans were viewing Mr. McCain’s plan as a way to deter Republicans from joining in the resolutions more critical of Mr. Bush, and many Republicans said that would be preferable to one criticizing the troop buildup outright. Senators also said they were beginning to realize that the vote, while nonbinding, would be an important statement on Congressional sentiment regarding the war.

“We all know the world is watching,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia.

The more sharply worded of the two measures critical of the White House is one approved last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and backed by the Democratic Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, as well as Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican. The second of the two measures is one backed by Senator Warner.

As those debates flared mostly in private, the confirmation hearing for Admiral Fallon as the new head of the military’s Central Command became a proxy debate not only over the president’s new strategy but also for the competing resolutions supported by senators of both parties.

But Admiral Fallon, currently in charge of American forces across Asia and the Pacific, declined to answer directly politically fraught questions about whether certain proposed resolutions would harm the military effort in Iraq or undermine the troops’ morale.

The admiral, who if confirmed as expected would be the first Navy officer to head the Central Command, said that he would always offer unvarnished military advice, but that he would avoid commenting on partisan political issues.

In his testimony, Admiral Fallon told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States might have erred in its assessments of how effectively the new Iraqi government could manage the nation’s affairs.

“Maybe we ought to redefine the goals here a bit and do something that’s more realistic in terms of getting some progress and then maybe take on the other things later,” Admiral Fallon said, adding, “What we’ve been doing is not working and we have got to be doing, it seems to me, something different.”

“Time is running out,” he concluded.

Senator Levin submitted a letter he co-authored with Senator McCain demanding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice make public the administration’s requirements for actions to be taken by the government in Baghdad to earn continued American support.

Late Tuesday, Senator Levin’s office released a reply from Ms. Rice that stated assurances that the Bush administration supports Mr. Maliki but also listed deadlines already missed by his government. Among them were laws to guarantee an equitable distribution of the country’s oil wealth, to establish provincial elections and to reintegrate disenfranchised Sunnis into Iraqi political life.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who led the panel for the last two years, joined Democrats who asserted that Mr. Bush cannot simply ignore Congressional opposition to his plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

“I would respectfully suggest to the president that he is not the sole decider,” Mr. Specter said. “The decider is a joint and shared responsibility.”

Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat who acted as chairman for the hearing, said he would soon introduce a resolution that would go much further. It would end all financing for the deployment of American military forces in Iraq after six months, other than a limited number working on counterterrorism operations or training the Iraqi Army and police force. In effect, it would call for all other American forces to be withdrawn by the six-month deadline.

Jeff Zeleny and David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington, and John O’Neil from New York.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

BBC NEWS | Americas | US chief seeks new tack on Iraq

BBC NEWS | Americas | US chief seeks new tack on Iraq

US chief seeks new tack on Iraq
President George W Bush's nominee to be the new commander of US military forces in the Middle East has called for a "new and different" approach in Iraq.

Admiral William Fallon told a Senate confirmation hearing that "time is short" for the US to turn Iraq around.

His comments came on another day of bloodshed in Iraq.

About 40 people died and more than 100 were injured in a series of bomb and mortar attacks across Iraq as Shia Muslims celebrated the Ashura festival.

'Sensitive time'

In Washington, Adm Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the previous US strategy in Iraq was "not working".


We need candid assessments, and you'll get them from me
Adm William Fallon

"I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around but time is short," he said.

"What we have been doing has not been working. [What] we have got to be doing, it seems to me, is something different."

Adm Fallon, who currently heads the military in the Pacific, is poised to become the first US navy officer to head Central Command, or Centcom.

He is replacing Gen John Abizaid, who is retiring after nearly four years as Centcom chief and if confirmed would become the immediate boss of Gen David Petraeus, who was recently confirmed as the commander of US forces in Iraq.

The commander's reputation as an able diplomat is being seen as an important asset at a very sensitive time for US policy in Iraq, says the BBC's James Coomarasamy, in Washington.

'No guarantees'

If confirmed, the admiral will have to oversee the deployment of more than 20,000 US troops in a "surge" operation in Iraq.

"There are no guarantees but you can depend on me for my best effort," Adm Fallon said.


We don't believe that [Iran's] behaviour, such as supporting Shia extremists in Iraq, should go unchallenged
John Negroponte
Nominee for deputy secretary of state

"We need candid assessments, and you'll get them from me."

Adm Fallon's comments echoed the grim but more realistic tone currently coming from the White House, our correspondent says.

Separately, John Negroponte, the first US director of intelligence and a former ambassador to Iraq and to the UN, now nominee for the post of deputy secretary of state, answered questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He backed recent tough talk towards Iran, saying Tehran was meddling in Iraq, and insisted that a diplomatic channel was already open with Syria.

"I would characterise our policy as desirous of resolving any issues we have with Iran by peaceful means," he said.

"But at the same time, we don't believe that their behaviour, such as supporting Shia extremists in Iraq, should go unchallenged.

"If they feel that they can continue with this kind of activity with impunity, that will be harmful to the security of Iraq and to our interests in that country."

His comments came as Democrat Senator Barack Obama expressed fears that the US would inadvertently stumble into active hostilities with Iran.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/americas/6314135.stm